Do Physicists Believe in God?

September 29th, 2010

We’re going to treat astronomers as a subset of physicists here.

Sure, some do.   A lot don’t.

One time I went camping with a group of guys I didn’t know too well.   They came from a wide range of backgrounds, and a lot of them were Christians of various fundamentalist stripes.   One of these guys asked me what I did for a living.   I told him I was an astronomer.   He immediately asked me, first thing, “You don’t believe in God, do you?”   No, I don’t, I told him.   There’s not nearly enough evidence to convince a scientist who uses his methodology in his every day life.   I wouldn’t say I’m sure that some entity “God” as defined by someone somewhere doesn’t exist, but I don’t see any compelling evidence for anything resembling the deity offered up by any organized religion.   They won’t offer evidence either, and claim you need something called “faith” that means, as far as I can tell, the willingness to believe in something just because other people tell you to.   That’s crap. Faith is not a virtue in my experience.

I can understand someone staying in a church to keep their family happy, or to keep their social connections and social life stable.   I can’t see anyone with intellectual integrity swallowing all the things associated with any organized religion.   For example, the body and blood of Christ, as the Catholic Church asks their followers to do.   Why not have a blood test following transubstantiation?   “That’s a question you shouldn’t ask.”

I came across an interesting video about this specific question and the broader one as well:

There’s a follow-up question asking “What is your favorite astronomical feature?” in the video. I’d have to be a little cheeky and abstract, and say that it’s one I can’t identify. Nature can’t abhor a vacuum and I can’t abhor something I can’t identify and am fascinated by such a puzzle and have to solve it. If the question was “object” or “image” I might say something different, but “feature” is pretty generous. I’ll take the puzzle. “Heavenly object” will get a different kind of response…

One final point. Religious and spiritual people sometimes like to redefine “God” to mean whatever they like, the way Margaret Atwood redefines science fiction (and doesn’t even stick to her own definition). Einstein got caught up in this, using the term too often when he didn’t mean what most people conventionally mean, although he would admit to it unlike Atwood. I know some people who try to redefine the Big Bang as “God” so…whatever. Not a very useful conversation a lot of the time.


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